Seven men have been convicted more than 25 years after a gas-plant leak in Bhopal, central India amounted to the biggest industrial disaster the world has ever known.
The men – all Indian employees of US company Union Carbide – were convicted in an Indian court on 7 June of “death by negligence” and sentenced to two years in prison, but bailed pending appeal. They were also ordered to pay fines of 100,000 rupees (£1492) each. An eighth man was convicted posthumously.
On 3 December 1984, toxic methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas leaked from the Union Carbide factory. An investigation indicated that a large volume of water had been introduced into a tank, which caused a chemical reaction, forcing a valve to open and allowing the gas to leak. A poisonous cloud of MIC and other chemicals was blown over much of Bhopal.
The Madhya Pradesh state government says that around 3800 people died in the immediate aftermath of the incident, and more than 15,000 in the years since.
Campaigners were outraged at the leniency of the court’s verdict. Speaking to The Guardian, Rachna Dhingra, of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action, said: “These men have been convicted of the equivalent offence of causing a road-traffic accident.”
There is also anger that Warren Anderson, Union Carbide’s chairman at the time of the disaster and who lives in the US, has never returned to India to face trial.
In a statement after yesterday’s verdict, Union Carbide said “the Bhopal plant was detail designed, owned, operated and managed on a day-to-day basis by Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) and its employees. All the appropriate people from UCIL – officers and those who actually ran the plant on a daily basis – have appeared to face charges.”
It went on to emphasise that neither Union Carbide nor its officials are “subject to the jurisdiction of the Indian court, since they did not have any involvement in the operation of the plant, which was owned and operated by UCIL”.
In 1989, after a ruling by the Supreme Court of India, Union Carbide Corporation and Union Carbide India Ltd paid the Indian government $470m in a final settlement of all Bhopal litigation.
Fire Safety in 2023 eBook
SHP's sister site, IFSEC Insider has released its annual Fire Safety Report for 2023, keeping you up to date with the biggest news and prosecution stories from around the industry.
Chapters include important updates such as the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 and an overview of the new British Standard for the digital management of fire safety information.
Plus, explore the growing risks of lithium-ion battery fires and hear from experts in disability evacuation and social housing.